Pipicha, the spindly Oaxacan herb with twiggy pine needle-like leaves, isn't an easy find. The handful we managed to procure from Kenter Canyon Farms was tucked behind a mountain of comparatively lush Italian flat leafed parsley. The distinctive purple pod-flowers were what caught our attention. But it's all about those spindly little leaves.
Pipicha is often suggested as a substitute for cilantro. But since fresh cilantro is always available — farmers market vendors actually carry more of it than parsley; we checked — we'd like to suggest the reverse. Sub in cilantro when you can't find pipicha. It's highly aromatic, much like cilantro, but with an almost piney, minty aroma. It also has a sour, citric tang like purslane. And if it's a particularly good batch, you'll also get some anise on the finish. And it's here for the next month.
You don't cook with it. You use it as a condiment, especially on richer dishes, like beef braises, eggs and chorizo, or properly larded frijoles. You can also use it to boost a plain arroz blanco or lift the flavor of a delicately poached white fish. Pipicha keeps you from feeling weighed down, working like a palate cleanser for each bite while enhancing all the subtler flavors of your meal. It makes cilantro, no herbal slouch in it's own right, seem a bit simplistic in contrast. Plus people who get that soapy taste from cilantro might find a friend in pipicha. It is harder to find, but once you find a grower, you'll become fast friends.
What exactly is the difference between winter savory and summer savory? For starters, summer savory is a tender annual. Winter savory is a small and slightly woody perennial shrub. You can pick winter savory, technically, year-round. But it seems to pack its biggest flavor in the wintertime. It has a heady amount of thymol, the phenol that gives thyme its distinctive aroma and flavor. It's also a close relative of mint and has a deep pungency not unlike rosemary. This thyme-rosemary combination is potent and as the name suggests, perfect when used, judiciously mind you, in savory dishes. Unlike pipicha, winter savory was meant to be cooked. The leaves are chewy when raw, and don't fully release their potential until softened with heat.
If you are accustomed to the lankier, more tender summer version, hold back a bit. Summer savory doesn't have the oily staying power of its winter cousin. Both ABC Rhubarb and Kenter Canyon have winter savory in stock, though Lily Baltazar of ABC only harvests from a few precious plants, which means sporadic availability. A little really does go a long way, and the small, sturdy bundles you'll buy from either vendor will last you a couple of weeks.